Story: It’s time again for Margie to look for a job. After repeated warnings about being late to work, she’s just been fired from her job at the Dollar Store in South Boston. Ironically, the man sent to terminate her employment is young Stevie, a fellow resident of this gritty, hardscrabble sector of Boston. Despite her pleas for still another chance, Margie must deal with the reality of finding employment to pay the bills for her and her mentally challenged adult daughter, Joyce.
Considering all the possibilities with her neighbors Dottie and Jean, Margie heeds Jean’s suggestion that she look up her old friend Mikey, now a successful physician with an office in a swanky area of Beantown. After some initial small talk, Margie asks Mikey for a job, any job, in his office.
She’s unsuccessful, but she does wrangle an invitation to his upcoming birthday party. He tells her that he doubts she’ll attend but, based on his off-hand remark that one of the guests “may have something” for her in the way of employment, she follows through. Traveling to the plush suburb of Chestnut Hill, Margie finds herself a stranger in a strange land and in an increasingly awkward conversation with Mikey and his youthful wife. Is the distance now between her and Mikey too wide a chasm to cross?
Highlights: Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. But what happens when home comes to you? Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s (Rabbit Hole) most recent effort is an intelligent, cleverly crafted drama that probes such a subject in beguiling fashion, drawn from his own upbringing.
Opened on Broadway in 2011, Lindsay-Abaire’s affecting tale of two kids from the grimy side of Boston who went separate ways in their lives is given a thoughtful and satisfying interpretation by his pal Seth Gordon. The latter is the director of The Rep’s presentation and also happens to be its associate artistic director.
Other Info: Lindsay-Abaire’s story brims with the awkwardness of people once close who have grown apart over the years. In this case, it’s more of a chasm between Margie, a single mother who has remained in South Boston with her mentally challenged adult daughter, and Mikey, now a fertility specialist with a flourishing practice in a tony section of Boston.
The beauty of the playwright’s script is that there are no heroes or villains present, just a collection of people who look at truth from different perspectives. Scenic designer Kent Dorsey points out the drastic differences in the lives of Margie and Mikey in their respective habitats: Margie’s world is framed by the back lot of a Dollar Store, the cramped kitchen of her landlady and friend Dottie or the functional appearance of the church hall where weekly bingo games are played. Mike, on the other hand, has a cold, sterile and modern office with a Beantown skyline and a handsome, two-story home in the suburbs that he shares with his much younger wife Kate and their daughter. These multiple sets are impressively wheeled in and out on The Rep stage.
Sound designer Rusty Wandall fills the air with rock tunes from blue-collar troubadours such as John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, and Michael Lincoln illuminates the various sets with lighting that underscores the coziness of that kitchen or the impersonal albeit professional appearance of Mike’s office. Adding to the stark comparisons are Myrna Colley-Lee’s costumes, where even Margie’s ‘Sunday best’ attire seems out of place in Mike’s imposing house.
Margie is etched expertly down to the bones by Denise Cormier. While her character lacks the education of her one-time beau, Cormier shows us how she is the ‘good people’ alluded to in the play’s title. “There’s no shame in an honest job” is her mantra, even if the care of her daughter often precludes her from getting that job done.
When Margie tells Mikey that he “was lucky,” she isn’t chastising him or attacking out of jealousy, merely mentioning what she thinks is obvious. Mikey likes to talk about his humble beginnings, but Margie shrewdly observes, “First of all, you had a father. Second, he had a job.” And, most importantly and fortunately for Mikey, “you had someone looking out the window for you.”
All of this dialogue is effective because of the straightforward, decent way in which Cormier crafts the words. Similarly, R. Ward Duffy shows us that Mike’s success has brought with it his own share of tribulations, most of them self-inflicted. Duffy capably walks the fine line between condescension and remembered familiarity in his conversations with Margie, with that omnipresent awkwardness always lurking.
Gordon meticulously crafts the pacing and movement of his friend’s masterful script, aided by strong performances by the cast. In addition to Cormier and Duffy, there’s fine work by Aaron Orion Baker as dutiful Dollar Store employee Stevie, an earnest lad who really does have Margie’s best interests at heart, and Andrea Gallo as the ditzy and dense Dottie, a woman who can carelessly wound people’s feelings with nary a first thought, much less a second.
Zoey Martinson’s role as Mike’s wife Kate is limited to the second act, but she brings a precise measure of interpretation about who is ‘nice’ and who is ‘good people’ from another but equally valid perspective. As Margie’s wise-cracking pal Jean, Elizabeth Ann Townsend wholly inhabits the crude and colorful character who brings a semblance of normalcy to her friend’s often dreary life.
Regardless of your own social and economic background, it’s easy to identify with the awkward alienation of people once close who now appear as familiar strangers. But, really, aren’t most of them ‘good people’?
Play: Good People
Group: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: Through January 27
Tickets: From $19.50; contact 968-4925 or repstl.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jerry Naunheim Jr.